“Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason.”
― Andrew Solomon,
Life Without Medicine Was Good Until It Wasn’t
The last 10 months have been a bit of a whirlwind in my bipolar journey. My former psychiatrist and I broke up back in May 2016. She had gotten married and was ready to move to be with her wife and newly adopted son. While I was excited for her next step in her journey, it felt to me, kind of like getting dumped because, next to Facebook, she was my longest relationship ever–6 years. No Freudian stuff went on, calm down folks, we just had a close relationship where each session ended with a hug and a “You’re awesome, Dan 6!” Yup. That was hard to replace so when she left for greener pastures, I did what any good counselor and patient would do–stopped taking my meds.
As the heading says, life without medicine was good until it wasn’t. I can say with 100% honesty that it wasn’t a bad 10 months. I used this time to do everything that I should have done years ago:
- I cleaned up my diet and lost weight
- I continually exercised throughout the week, more times than not, meeting the minimum of 150 minutes a week
- I renewed a previous love affair with photography and made taking pictures a priority in my life
- I started blogging again after a hiatus and invested in others
- I continued to develop mindful awareness and made it a priority to handle mood swings, angry outbursts, and expletive sandwiches
- I cleaned out my wardrobe and started dressing like I cared about myself
- I welcomed back another past love, journaling, and used it help manage thoughts, situations, and gain perspective
- I embraced reading and developed a habit of reading at least 2 books (or more) a month and comics (because Batman is good for the mind and soul)
So, needless to say, it was a good 10 months in terms of developing skills. It would be a great story if it ended there, however, it doesn’t end there and some other things also happened over the last 10 months:
- I experienced an insatiable sexual appetite that would make a 14-year-old boy proud.
- My moods swung like a monkey in the jungle. I was happy one moment, crying the next, beyond needy, in the staves of depression while having angry outbursts that would make a sailor blush. Needless to say, most days were “Manic Mondays”.
- I started drinking more often. My drinking was 2 beers a night, for about 2 weeks at a time. I’m sure you’re wondering what the problem is but again, given my past, trust me, it wasn’t a daily habit I wanted to take up again. I just could not relax.
- I started having panic attacks after being free of them for a few years. Anyone with Panic Disorder knows that this is akin to being trapped in your own personal hell.
- My work started suffering–tremendously. I’m still picking up the pieces of a year gone by with limited work and lying to cover my tracks.
- I lied–a lot. I lied to myself, I lied to others, I just plain lied. Not because I wanted to or even liked lying, I was just too ashamed to admit I needed help.
- Lastly, I hallucinated. I saw demons, bugs, shadows, etc. It was because of these hallucinations, racing thoughts, and psychotic moments that I had to miss some very important appointments and commitments this year. I was too ashamed to admit the truth to anyone including myself.
So, as I said above, life was good until it wasn’t.
Life with Medicine Is Different but Not Bad
Life with meds, well, it’s different but not bad. I’ve started taking a low dose of an SNRI and an anti-seizure med to help with my moods. Here are some things I’ve noticed in the first few weeks:
- I feared weight gain but have actually lost weight
- In the past, my sleep has been horrendous when taking an anti-depressant and, this time, I’m sleeping like a baby
- I’ve started drinking more coffee (not sure why)
- I’ve been struggling with some fatigue from the meds but my energy level is starting to go up
- As Mark Manson says, “I’m giving less F###’s” which, for me, is really good because usually I’m worried about what everyone thinks of me; now, not so much.
- I feel a renewed desire to live and enjoy life with others
- It’s taken the “edge” off and I feel less like a walking time bomb
- To quote the late Robin Williams, “I realize now that my doctor is my dealer.” Yup.
I’ve Realized That I Need Medicine Even Though I Don’t Want It
Like most people, I have an ego. My ego screams, “You don’t need medicine! You’ve got this.” To my dear ego’s credit, I did a pretty good job without medicine but I can also admit that I am doing much better with it. The obsessions that were consuming my everyday life are no longer present and that kind of peace is hard to find. I only hope the next time the urge to quit comes, I won’t, because let’s be honest, many of us have felt the “I feel great and don’t need my meds!” high. If you haven’t–bless you. You’re lucky. For those of us who’ve followed this high and have crashed and burned under its promises, you may be considering going on medicine for the first time or starting again.
If You’re Considering Going on Medicine for the First Time or Returning to a Regimen, Keep in Mind
You Know Your Body Better Than Anyone
You know it better than any doctor, therapist, social worker, nurse, family member, etc. Do not let anyone force you to take anything you are not comfortable with. Do your research, ask questions, know what’s worked for you and what hasn’t but you must be willing to be honest: with yourself and your doctor.
Medicine Will Not Fix All of Your Problems
You cannot expect the medicine to do all of the work. It’s not a cure-all. You must be willing to work through your stuff with a therapist, clergy member, in your own inner life (journaling, meditation, etc.) You must be willing to eat well, exercise, sleep well, etc. Take care of yourself and let the medicine supplement your healthy lifestyle. If you’re expecting it to fix everything–you’ll be disappointed.
You Probably Won’t Feel like Taking Medicine Even If You Need To
You may not want to take medicine, feel like taking medicine, or even want to hear about medicine. I know, I didn’t. I wanted to admit with pride that I had found “the way” to manage bipolar disorder med free, but if I’m honest with myself, I knew months before I met with a doctor that I needed something. I caught myself thinking quite often, “I wonder if I need to go back on medicine” but was too ashamed to seek help because I felt defeated and weak.
There’s Nothing to Be Ashamed of for Seeking Help
Nothing. Nada. You have nothing to be ashamed of by asking for help. Honestly, to me and many others, this is a sign of strength because you’re willing to admit, “I can’t do this alone” and that’s where true power lies. We need each other.
Lastly, educate yourself on what the doctor recommends or prescribes. I would caution reading forums and horror stories because for every one good story told there are many horror stories. You can adopt these side effects and terrible situations as your own if you read too much of this stuff. Just ask any psych student who’s taken a mental disorders class and thought they had everything in the DSM. Don’t psych yourself out rather educate yourself. Keep in mind that medicine takes time to work and acts differently with each person. Write down any bothersome side effects, changes in mood or behavior and share them with your doctor.
Don’t be afraid to seek help and admit you’re struggling.
It’s in our struggle that we can find our greatest strength.
I know I’m finding mine.
I hope you will, too.
Be Well Friends,